iraqi PM counterattacks: high stakes political game continues in baghdad

In response to various attempts to remove him from office, the Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki has responded with promises of political reform. But can he be trusted? Or is this yet another way for him to sideline the opposition and grab more power.

 

The campaign to oust current Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki from his job by having a majority in Parliament vote him out seems to have failed. But the campaign against al-Maliki continues.

 

Currently the alliance of political parties ranged against him - the Iraqiya Bloc, headed by former Prime Minister Ayed Allawi, the Kurdish politicians and the Sadrist bloc - are working on a second plan and that is to bring al-Maliki before Parliament for questioning about legal and constitutional violations. If they succeed Parliament could then dismiss their Prime Minister. According to local analysts though, this process could take months.

 

And it seems that al-Maliki is now responding to attempts to oust him with some serious moves of his own. He has threatened early elections and now says he will also work on some political reforms.

 

“Those calling for a withdrawal of confidence have retreated,” MP Ali al-Shalalah, who belongs to al-Maliki’s State of Law bloc, says. “Recently there have more calls to start a dialogue with al-Maliki instead. This option is seen as more relevant.”

 

Especially because al-Maliki announced that his political alliance was creating a committee to reform the political process in Iraq. This week senior politician Ibrahim al-Jaafari announced that a special committee had been formed to review differences between the political blocs in Iraq and look at problems related to legislative, executive and judicial authorities.

 

“The reform committee aims to find real solutions to existing problems,” al-Jaafari says. “And these problems can be seen as existing in several categories.”

 

Firstly, there are problems that have to do with agreements between the feuding political blocs about which positions certain high ranking politicians would fill; this included discussion of the vacant seats in certain important ministries, that al-Maliki was occupying in the interim.

 

Another involved the powers of the federal court and yet another had to do with relations between the Iraqi Parliament and the Iraqi Cabinet, or executive branch; relations were strained with Parliament and ministers often coming to different conclusions. And finally there was the problem of how to balance the demands of the Iraqi Constitution with all of the above.

 

Despite what appear to be good intentions, there is no doubt that al-Maliki’s opponents do not trust him any more than they did before. There has been plenty of press coverage and public relations work on al-Maliki’s behalf but the parties who wanted to oust him don’t think he is serious about the alleged reforms.

 

“This call for reform is nothing more than a political manoeuvre and an attempt to gain more time,” Hani Ashour, an adviser to the opposition Iraqiya coalition, told NIQASH. The essence of the current political crisis is the fact that al-Maliki has not honoured the Erbil agreement, under which he formed this government.”

 

The so-called Erbil agreement was formulated in Erbil to end a nine month dispute over who should run the government following disputed 2010 elections. It gave al-Maliki the right to form a government if he met certain conditions and gave his electoral opponents certain high powered jobs; basically it was a power sharing deal.

 

The fact that al-Maliki has done almost nothing to honour that deal doesn’t give his opponents much faith that he will change now.

 

“The various political blocs have listened to al-Maliki. But he and his alliance have only proved one thing: that they are good at procrastinating,” leading Kurdish MP, Shwan Mohammed Taha, says.

 

And Taha thinks the Iraqi people feel the same. “Last year al-Maliki promised them he would reform during the 100 day deadline he set. Al-Maliki was well aware that these reforms would require years. The aim was simply to silence the masses who were protesting,” Taha points out.  

 

Al-Maliki’s 100 day deadline came in late February of 2011 in response to popular protests that saw thousands of ordinary Iraqis take to the streets to demand better state services, like electricity, and more job opportunities.

 

Meanwhile cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who leads the multi-million-member Sadrist movement with whom the al-Ahrar political bloc is affiliated, has been somewhat more conciliatory. Although the Sadrists were convinced enough by the other opposition parties to become part of the effort to unseat al-Maliki, they also remain an important part of al-Maliki’s ruling coalition. 

 

“We hope that the reform committee is an impartial one,” al-Sadr says. “And that it does not only serve al-Maliki’s interests. I also hope that al-Maliki is serious about implementing these reforms before the parties seeking to withdraw confidence from him finish their work. Because if they succeed, then it would be too late for him to achieve anything.”

 

Al-Sadr’s words have left some analysts scratching their heads. Because firstly they suggest he welcomes the reform committee idea. And this is despite the fact that his political affiliates have said they will continue to back the efforts to oust al-Maliki. At the same time, the statement indicates that the politically savvy al-Sadr doesn’t completely trust al-Maliki either.

 

As one politician, who is part of the opposition movement against al-Maliki and who preferred to remain anonymous put it: “I am now afraid that our request for questioning and attempts to withdraw confidence from al-Maliki will fail. Then we will be obliged to accept the promises on reform made by al-Maliki - despite the fact that nobody in Iraq trusts him to keep these promises.”

 

In response, MP Saad al-Matlabi, who is a member of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s ruling coalition, insisted that his bloc was serious about the proposed reforms - “provided there is a comprehensive national dialogue involving all parties and which is not boycotted by any party,” al-Matlabi concluded.